Can law enforcement be sued for failing to do welfare check?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Can law enforcement be sued for failing to do welfare check?

A mother had called law enforcement a couple of times concerned about her daughter’s welfare after receiving distressing calls from her. After no welfare

check had been done in nearly 12 hours, the mom drove from NM to

AZ to find her daughter had committed suicide.

Asked on October 8, 2018 under Personal Injury, New Mexico


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

It is very unlikely that a viable lawsuit can be maintained against law enforcement. There are three problems:
1) First, there is no liabilty unless there is a violation of a duty. It is doubtful that a court would find that law enforcement has an enforceable or mandatory duty to perform a "welfare" check based on the phone calls. While the police do welfare checks, it is not at all clear that they are required to do so every time there is a call. With no duty, there would be no liability.
2) Even if there was a duty to perform the check, for a lawsuit to succeeed, it would have to be shown that under the circumstances (given when calls were made; the contents of the call and whether the mother seemed credible (believable) about her concerns) that the police had been "negligent," or unreasonable careless, in not performing the check within that time period.
3) And in addition, causation would have to shown: that had the police made the check wnen the mother called, that the daughter would not have killed herself. If she had killed herself before the check, or reasoanbly could have passed the check then killed herself later, the check would have had no effect on the outcome; and if there was no effect, there would be no liability. It would likely be impossible to show that the suicide was the result of no check being done.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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